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Africa's forgotten conflicts

By Simon Hooper for CNN
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(CNN) -- United Nations humanitarian chief Jan Egeland was in Uganda on Sunday to meet Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group responsible for an insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives and displaced nearly two million people.

While conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan dominate headlines, it is Africa -- more commonly associated with famine and disease -- that has suffered most from war in recent years.

More than five million Africans are estimated to have died as a result of conflicts in the past decade, while the continent accounts for 80 percent of the total number of U.N. peacekeepers deployed around the world.

Uganda

Egeland has described the 20-year conflict in northern Uganda between government forces and the Lord's Resistance Army as the most neglected humanitarian crisis in the world. Rebel leader Kony says he wants to rule Uganda according to the Ten Commandments but the LRA campaign has been marked by brutality, including the abduction of many school children with girls forced to be sex slaves and boys pressed into the guerrilla army.

A truce was signed in August but hopes of a lasting peace are complicated by the fact that LRA leaders, including Kony, are wanted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Since 1998 the country formerly known as Zaire has been caught up in a conflict variously described as the world's deadliest since World War Two and the "African World War," with up to four million people losing their lives.

The origins of the war date back to 1997 when Mobutu Sese Seko, Zairian president since 1965, was overthrown by Rwandan-backed rebels led by Laurent-Desire Kabila. Kabila and his former allies quickly fell out, plunging the country into a civil war fueled by rebel forces supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Kabila's regime was defended by troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad and Sudan, while locally-raised forces controlled by warlords further complicated the conflict, with regional factions battling for control of diamond mines and mineral resources.

Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and replaced by his son, Joseph Kabila. A fragile cease-fire has been in place since 2003, although localized outbreaks of fighting continue. Elections held this year -- the first in 40 years -- marred by violence but hailed as a success. The country has the largest deployment of U.N. peacekeepers anywhere in the world -- some 18,500 personnel.

Sudan

The east African country has been in a state of near permanent civil war since winning independence from Britain in 1956. Since 2003 a rebellion has raged in the western Darfur region, fueled by the grievances of the local black African population who claim they are being oppressed by the Arab-led government in Khartoum.

In response Arab militia known as the Janjaweed began attacking villages, killing and raping and forcing millions into refugee camps. The government denies controlling the militiamen, but former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell described the conflict as "genocide" in 2004 and Human Rights Watch accuses Khartoum of killing civilians indiscriminately.

A peace deal signed in May between Khartoum and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) has done little to stop the crisis, fragmenting the rebels into those who accept the cease-fire agreement and those who don't. More than 200,000 have died to date while around two million refugees live in over-flowing camps lacking food, water and medicine. The conflict has also spilled over the border into neighboring Chad, where many refugees have fled.

Somalia

Somalia has lacked a functioning central government since warlords ousted former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and a two-year U.N. peacekeeping effort was abandoned in 1995 after enduring heavy casualties.

In May 2006 Islamic militants loyal to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and soldiers fighting for an alliance of secular warlords known as the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) fought fierce gun battles in the capital Mogadishu, killing several hundred people in the crossfire.

With the UIC increasing its control in the south of the country, Arab League-mediated peace talks between the group and Somalia's transitional government collapsed at the start of this month, prompting fears of a return to all-out civil war.

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A column of around 40 Lord's Resistance Army fighters emerge from thick bush. The LRA has waged a 20-year insurgency in Uganda.

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